Goldfinch Brothers recently came upon this excellent article from the September 2012 edition of  Door &Hardware magazine by John O’Meara (reposted on Hafele’s website here. entitled “Sliding Door Hardware, Saving Space and Reducing Cost in Today’s Commercial Buildings.”)

The title sums up one of the key points of the article and perhaps the greatest reason to consider sliding doors in a general sense, space=money and sliding doors have a critical advantage over swinging doors in this regard.  It is fairly easy to understand this concept; a 3 foot wide swinging door will take up 9 square feet of floor space as it opens as shown on a typical floor plan. What is less obvious is that 9 square feet is just the start of the spatial loss; for a swinging door to open fully 180 degrees, it would require 14 square feet of clear floor space just for the path of the door and the space actually rendered unusable for other purposes is actually closer to 30 square feet per door in a typical commercial office building. For a sliding door, only a wall or partition the size of the door leaf itself is required along with the roughly 2” of space for that the door itself would occupy.  This square footage mounts very quickly and begins to require sacrificing the number of offices or rooms per floor.

When considering the space savings potentially offered by sliding doors, it is clear why they have proven so popular in healthcare design of late. Many current clinic or ambulatory care designs for new construction and remodels follow LEAN design principals and call for versatile rooms organized in pods with patient access from one side of the room and provider access from the opposite side (see plans below). This means two doors per room and door swing space becomes an impossible luxury in facilities where the emphasis is on the efficient use of all resources including staff, movement, equipment and of course valuable space.   On Many projects, exam rooms or other spaces would have to be eliminated on the design footprint to accommodate a swing door design.

Space is not the end of the story however and despite the efficiency of sliding doors in that regard, they have faced several specific challenges to their use.  A big problem has been assumptions about sliders based on the limitations of pocket doors or typical residential sliding glass doors. Contemporary barn doors do not have the maintenance issues associated with a track buried inside a wall or the low-quality of construction that was typical of inexpensive residential sliders. Many of today’s quality top-hung track and roller assemblies like AD Systems are extremely smooth rolling and essentially impossible to knock off their tracks and not bottom track is required for their operation. Properly installed hardware (including locks) will meet ADA requirements a range of handles are available to accommodate specific aesthetics or functionality.  The introduction of soft-closers for sliders has been a great improvement, allowing the doors to close smoothly and softly to guard against pinched fingers while bringing the door to a fully closed position; such hardware can be also added at the back of the door to prevent a sliding door from being “thrown open” and banging against its backstop.

Another particularly pervasive myth about sliding doors is that they are not capable of offering any level of acoustical privacy. In working with AD Systems we have heard this concern voiced repeatedly and have even encountered it specifically written in to design documents (i.e. sliding doors not permitted because they do not offer acoustical privacy). With both swing and sliding doors, acoustical privacy is an involved issue and begins first with the construction of the facility, especially the walls, ceiling and HVAC design. The doors can only be as good as the surrounding assemblies and for both swing and sliding doors a range of options from basic speech privacy to actual STC assembly ratings are possible. It is critical to compare apples to apples, an STC 40 door leaf used in either swing or sliding doors does not mean that STC 40 performance can be expected: gaskets, door bottoms and the overall performance of the assembly must be addressed since sound will “leak” through any unsealed areas. It is also important to note that sealing a door tightly for the purposes of acoustical privacy (with either a swinging or sliding door) will make it more difficult to open and close, likely requiring a little extra push to ensure a good seal. The bottom line is however that acoustical performance options for sliding doors do presently exist and acoustics should not be a reason to dismiss sliding doors entirely.

In addition to all of the reasons cited above, one final reason to consider using a sliding system for your project is the great, clean, contemporary aesthetics that they can offer. Sliding doors, particular top-hung barn door systems, have a sleek look and operation that is very well tailored to current design trends and offers something more unique that a traditional swinging door. Either standalone barn doors or officefronts can incorporate decorative glass or resins, marker boards, solid panels or other features to create beautiful functional spaces of all types. We invite you to explore some of these solutions on our project gallery page  or to bring us your design ideas and needs so that we can develop an efficient, effective sliding door solution for your project.